John Podhoretz -- conservative opinion columnist for the New York Post, FOX News Channel contributor, author of Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane, and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush -- has suggested that "ritual humiliation" is an appropriate punishment for U.S. military personnel implicated in the torture, abuse, and sexual humiliation of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison.
While the U.S. government has initiated courts-martial proceedings for two of the accused Americans -- and an unclassified report by an Air Force psychiatrist, Col. Henry Nelson, has concluded that that the way to "prevent the recurrence of such inhumane behavior" is for the "guilty to face swift, appropriate justice," (The Washington Post, "Soldiers Vented Frustration, Doctor Says," May 24) -- Podhoretz has other ideas, according to the May 24 Los Angeles Times. The Times reported:
Then there are those, including Podhoretz ... and the eternally pugnacious radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who refuse to entertain doubts at all. Abu Ghraib, said Podhoretz, "is not like My Lai. One hundred and twenty nine people didn't die. It's not a wartime atrocity at that level. These were acts of ritual humiliation, and everyone who did it should be photographed in the same positions they put other people in."
According to an essay by Susan Sontag in the May 23 New York Times Magazine, "[M]ost of the torture photographs have a sexual theme, as in those showing the coercing of prisoners to perform, or simulate, sexual acts among themselves. One exception, already canonical, is the photograph of the man made to stand on a box, hooded and spouting wires, reportedly told he would be electrocuted if he fell off."
In Podhoretz's recent New York Post columns, he has sought to minimize the Abu Ghraib scandal ("The scandal isn't widening. If anything, it's contracting," Podhoretz wrongly wrote on May 14); and he has referred to the accused Americans as "white-trash ghouls" (May 11); "sadists and thugs" (May 11); "eight dirtbags" (May 14); and "eight psychos in one cellblock in the Abu Ghraib prison [who] pile[d] naked Iraqis on top of one another" (May 19).
On May 11, Podhoretz took a different tack in a New York Post column -- writing in reaction to Seymour M. Hersh's report, titled "Chain of Command," in the May 17 issue of The New Yorker. In "Chain of Command," Hersh quoted the attorney of John Walker Lindh (the California expatriate who is serving a federal prison sentence for conspiring with the Taliban forces in Afghanistan after reaching a plea bargain in which he was forced to drop claims of abuse by the U.S. military) as saying that U.S. soldiers photographed Lindh naked and blindfolded, "scrawled 's
head' across Mr. Lindh's blindfold ... and told Mr. Lindh that he was 'going to hang' for his actions." Podhoretz defended this alleged conduct in Limbaugh-like terms: "And if they [American troops] managed to release a little tension at Lindh's expense, God bless them for it." (On May 4, Limbaugh described the abusive conduct by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib as "emotional release" ... "to blow some steam off".)